#SJA2014: England women’s rugby get my vote

World Cup-winners:  the England women's team set the bar very high
World Cup-winners: the England women’s team

STEVEN DOWNES says that there is one outstanding set of candidates for the SJA’s Team of the Year Award

The votes have been coming in thick and fast. All of them have “England women’s rugby” listed as the chosen winners of the SJA’s Team of the Year award.

Trouble is, most of those votes cast have not come from members of the Sports Journalists’ Association.

That’s the trouble with social media campaigns – sometimes they are no respecters of the rules.

So the delight expressed last week by someone at Twickenham operating an RFU Twitter account that the World Cup-winning England women’s team was “nominated” (their word, not ours; in 65 years, the SJA has never nominated or shortlisted anyone for our sports awards. We merely “prompt”) drew a rash of RTs, and a goodly number of votes into the electronic ballot box. Pity none of those voting had bothered to read the bit on the ballot form that says, “Voting is strictly limited to fully paid-up SJA members”, or enter their membership number (undoubtedly because they don’t have one).

The real travesty, though, would be if Katy Mclean and her team mates were not to be announced by our President, Sir Michael Parkinson, at our awards lunch on December 11 as the 2014 SJA Team of the Year.

Of course, there are other teams with strong claims for the honour. Mercedes – German-named, but firmly based at Brackley in Britain, and therefore qualified – deserve much credit if Lewis Hamilton does manage to regain the Formula 1 world title to add to the constructors’ world title that they have already secured. Voting is open until the conclusion of the F1 season, so there is time yet, but our members have rarely backed the engineering excellence of Britain’s outstanding motorsport teams; maybe that’s because when there’s such internal rivalries, as that between Hamilton and Nico Rosberg, the notion of teamwork cannot be taken so seriously?

And there’s the European Ryder Cup team… But really? When the talk even before the weekend at Gleneagles was all about whether the Americans are strong enough any longer to provide decent competition for those assembled from the European PGA Tour, then the overwhelming success enjoyed by Paul McGinley’s team is rendered a little on the facile side.

Outstanding: England's Emily Scarratt was a match-winner in the World Cup final and the tournament's outstanding player
Outstanding: England’s Emily Scarratt was a match-winner in the World Cup final and the tournament’s outstanding player

That’s far from the case with England’s women’s rugby team. World Cup-winners. It has a certain ring to it, you have to admit.

Whenever I cast my votes for the annual SJA British Sports Awards, I try to assess different sports, and their outstanding sportsmen, sportswomen and teams’ claims on a pecking order: world or Olympic champions always take precedence. And we’ve rarely had World Cup-winners, in any sports, to celebrate.

This was England’s fourth World Cup final in succession, but the first they have won. Three times, in 2002, 2006 and 2010, the Englishwomen had been beaten by New Zealand.

In Paris in 2014, though, they were the dominant force. After Ireland had beaten the Black Ferns, England thumped the Irish 40-7 in the semi-final before facing Canada in the final.

After a 13-13 draw between the sides in a dead rubber at the group stages, the expectation was that the final might have been close: 11-3 up at half-time in an edgy contest, England won 21-9. After free-scoring rugby in the earlier stages, this was a triumph of determined persistence and perseverence. Stalwarts, such as flank forward Maggie Alphonsi who had played in the two previous, agonising, final defeats, were able to cap their careers with World Cup-winners’ medals.

“We’ve worked so hard for this, and there are so many great legends that have gone before us that haven’t won in an England shirt, and that’s for all of them who are here today,” Mclean said.

In an era of uber-professional sport, it is also worth remembering that all of the England squad went into the World Cup as part-time amateurs, which makes the achievement all the more praise-worthy, in my opinion, at least.

Rugby teams – the Lions and England men – have won the SJA Team of the Year trophy seven times in the past, the same number of times that Europe’s Ryder Cup golfers have won it. The SJA should mark the women’s first World Cup victory with their first Team of the Year title, too.

  • Steven Downes is the Hon Secretary of the SJA, and has been a sportswriter for 30 years, covering two dozen sports at world level, from darts to netball, and much in between
  • Voting is now open for all SJA members to choose their Sportsman, Sportswoman and Team of the Year. Only SJA members are eligible to vote.
  • The winners will be announced at the 65th annual SJA British Sports Awards, sponsored by The National Lottery and being staged in London on December 11.
  • And if you want to make your own case for your favourite performer, or performers, of 2014, send your article to


Thu Dec 11: SJA British Sports Awards, sponsored by The National Lottery, at the Grand Connaught Rooms


Mon Mar 23: SJA British Sports Journalism Awards, sponsored by BT Sport, at the Grand Connaught Rooms. Entry forms will be available in October 2014

Wed May 13: SJA York Races Day, sponsored by Ladbrokes, at the Dante Festival. Click here to book your places

Mon Sep 14: SJA Autumn Golf Day, Muswell Hill Golf Club